- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 15, 2005

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — While the Washington Wizards evolved into a young playoff team last season, backup center Etan Thomas found himself — much to his chagrin — right back where he started.

Thomas, who suffered a severe abdominal strain in training camp last season that prevented him from making his 2004-05 debut until Feb. 12, had to undergo the same rehabilitation during the summer — the result of another severe strain he suffered during the playoffs.

“It was all summer long,” the 6-foot-10 Thomas said. “It was in the same area, but I don’t think it was as bad as the first one. Still, it was a slow process. Right now I feel that all the rehab paid off. I feel fine.”

The 27-year-old Thomas was acquired by the Wizards on Feb. 22, 2001, making him the longest-tenured player on the roster. Ironically, other than the team’s new acquisitions, only 2002 draft pick Jared Jeffries (179) and 2003 draft pick Jarvis Hayes (124) have appeared in fewer Wizards games than Thomas, who last season signed a six-year, $38 million deal with the club.

Thomas missed his entire rookie season with a toe injury. In 2002-03, he missed the last 28 games of the season with a fractured orbital bone and a bruised left eye socket. And then came last season, when he missed the first 32 games with the first abdominal injury.

But Thomas, who was active Thursday night with four points, four rebounds and two blocks in the Wizards’ 95-91 preseason win against the San Antonio Spurs, has looked good this preseason — something that has not escaped the notice of coach Eddie Jordan.

“It’s good to see him out there and healthy because he gives us the power game,” Jordan said. “When he’s out there on the floor, it gives us a more physical presence.”

Thomas was happy when he learned the Wizards had re-signed Michael Ruffin this summer, saying they complement each other and give opponents a different look.

“We both feed off each other, and I was really, really glad when they decided to bring Michael back,” Thomas said.

Thomas understands his role on the Wizards. He is a banger and a defender and doesn’t mind coming off the bench, saying, “I just want to do whatever my team needs to help.”

That he is capable of just that was evident when he erupted for 20 points and nine rebounds in the Wizards’ crucial Game 3 victory over Chicago in the first round of last year’s playoffs.

Thomas hopes there will be more nights like that in the coming season. One thing he isn’t concerned about, though, is all the time he has missed.

“Injuries happen, and they end a lot of things before they begin,” Thomas said. “But you can’t worry about it now because they are in the past, and you have to move forward. I did all the rehab I could possibly do over the summer, and now I’m just looking forward to the season.”


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